Throughout life we have regrets. Some of them are for things we did do, and others for things we never did.
I recently did an online training session with Dan Pink where he spoke about his research: The World Regret Survey, and book – The Power of Regret.
The global research identified the top four regrets
- Foundation regrets: I wish I had done the work when they see the consequences on education, health and savings.
- Boldness regrets: which include not starting a business, travelling, speaking up and not asking someone out on a date.
- Moral regrets: wishing you had done the right thing when you found out about bullying.
- Connection regrets: when you wish that you had reached out and because of that, for example, you drifted further apart in a friendship.
When we are in our 20s, we have an equal number of regrets for action and inaction, but as we age we have many more regrets for things that we haven’t done.
I’d like you to pause reading this and get out of your system all of your regrets. Looking back over the last 10 years, take time to write them down. If they are in your head they are taking up some ‘band width’ so let’s use them to learn.
I did this and had regrets related to my personal and professional lives, but of course, the decisions I made instead lead on to interesting options. They were sliding doors moments when I took this option instead of that, making decisions based on the information I had at the time.
It helps to be clear on regrets and this can lead to more energy and confidence. We can also set aside the guilt we feel for what we did or didn’t do, such as when we performed badly at interview.
You may like to create a ritual to let go of regrets.
On my first vision quest I wrote down all my regrets and did a ceremony which finished with a burning of the regrets, each written on a separate piece of paper. There were several steps before, truly reflecting on each one and recognising what it meant to my life, now looking back on them.
So the next step is to imagine ourselves 10 years into the future. I’m 64, what would the 74 year old me regret, looking back?
I have choices around work, am I making the right choices in how I focus my time. How much do I want to do paid work, how much on writing books, how else do I want to spend my time.
There may be questions on relationships. Currently my partner and I are talking about buying a home together. A big decision and maybe thinking of the 2 options 10 years into the future is a way for us to make the decision.
Wider family considerations too. Do I reach out to estranged family members … will I regret taking action or my inaction?
The next activity is to imagine the you of 10 years and considering your life of today. Did you take meaningful action, reach out, take a risk? There are the important questions for you to consider now.
We can’t regret every action we take so what is most important to you? Taking time to consider this, from a future perspective can help us with what we do now. What is truly important to us.
A similar activity is to send yourself a letter to the you in 10 years of what you plan to do. I know of people who do this on the 1st of January for the coming year, but you can be more long term, and of course you can write it on any day.
Our regrets lead to clarity on values
If our regrets are around lacking courage, that’s a value we need to focus on. It might be that we need to develop courage.
If we regret not spending time with family and friends, then we need to focus our time and energy there.
As we unpick our regrets it can help us understand our values at quite a deep level. Working with clients I now include regrets as part of our conversation before we look at values as I want my clients to make choices based on a deeper understanding of who they are, not a ‘tick box’ activity.
Regrets can lead to a sense of purpose
Especially as we age, we want to know our purpose in life. We can realise that it wasn’t about buying the big house, and the high status job.
We begin to think about the reason we are on this earth, our mortality and legacy. We want to make the best use of our time and be with the people who love and support us.
I’ll be writing more on purpose in another article.